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ISDN battle to end soon

The California Public Utilities Commission gives Pac Bell one more chance to justify a price hike for ISDN service.

The California Public Utilities Commission today gave Pac Bell one more chance to justify a price hike for ISDN service.

The meeting was the final straw in a drawn-out battle over pricing. Pac Bell had proposed a price increase for ISDN service over a year ago to help cover costs. The computer industry, led by Intel, claims that a rate hike would stifle the growth of the Internet.

"We're at the point where the commission just needs to make a decision," said Kim Malcolm, the administrative law judge who is overseeing the proceedings today. "I'm probably going to walk out of here and make a proposal to the commission based on my intuition. It won't be perfect and it won?t make everyone happy. It will fall somewhere in the middle."

The meeting followed Malcolm's preliminary ruling last November, which concluded that Pacific Bell hadn't demonstrated why it should be allowed to raise rates for ISDN connections. Her draft ruling stated that Pac Bell should retain the current rate of $24.50 per month instead of the $32.50 that the utility had proposed. She also recommended off-peak usage at no additional charge for up to 200 hours, instead of the 20 hours proposed by Pac Bell.

Whatever she decides, Malcom's final recommendation will likely be forwarded to the Commission in time for a vote on either January 13 or January 23, ending the nearly year-long struggle.

Both sides indicated that the hearing was unproductive. Pac Bell and the Utility Consumer Action Network said Malcolm had enough information from the first hearing to make her final decision.

And if that is true, Intel, as well as companies such as Compaq Computer and the Utility Consumer Action Network, will applaud the Commission's final ruling.

In her original 39-page decision, Malcolm found deficiencies in Pac Bell's ISDN customer and installation service, and she proposed improvements to be made by March 1997. One of them: that Pac Bell agree to install an ISDN line within ten days or offer a discount.

Many Pac Bell customers have complained that it takes weeks to get an ISDN line installed, although the company says it has improved its service.